Archive for February 2011

Sensible steps or over-reaction: has the Kennel Club lost the plot?

February 2, 2011

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also required to sit down and listen.’ Winston Churchill

In my New Year Message in Our Dogs back the end of December, I said that my general feeling for the future was optimistic but that I had concerns that Clarges Street was reacting too readily to the media, to veterinarians, to dog related pressure groups and charities.  Of course, these groups are entitled to their views, although we must always remember that the motivation of many is only to seek publicity and raise funds.

But we, those deeply embedded and committed to dogs, are entitled to our views too and it is becoming increasingly clear that the Kennel Club is more interested in allaying the concerns and damping the fires of these lobby groups than it is defending and supporting the breeders and exhibitors who provide their funds.  I should make it clear I am speaking of the Kennel Club as an institution here – not about individuals.  Institutions take on a life of their own as anyone who has been involved with one knows only too well.  Parkinson’s Law is the best and ultimate guide!

I should also say that the motivation for the changes which are taking place sound good.  They are: that they are necessary for the improved welfare of dogs and that if we do not move in this direction government will force this issue by bringing in further legislation.  It sounds good but I hope to show in this article that both contentions are inaccurate.

But to begin at the beginning.  I have long argued that the Kennel Club does not reflect the views of the vast majority of those who sign the declaration on entry forms and registration and club related documents but I have forced to the conclusion that it now no longer reflects the views of the majority of its own members either.  I can tell you too, that it does not reflect the thinking of many of those elected by the membership to represent them.  This is not to say that the majority is necessarily right (majorities often are not) but in this case – and for once I am of the majority – I think they are in this instance.  And I am as angry, upset and disappointed as they are.

Enormous progress has been made over the passed few years (accelerated admittedly by the furore surrounding Pedigree Dogs Exposed) in the improvement in the well being of pedigree dogs.  We have seen fantastic improvements in Chows, Shar Pei, Pugs and Bulldogs and the changes in standards and the change of emphasis on judging priorities have already and will continue to ensure further progress among those breeds which, almost all agree, have become over exaggerated.  But the time has come to step back and take stock: to wait and see if the changes already in place will lead to gradual and continual improvement.  It is not the time for a raft of unnecessary, thoughtless, knee jerk reactions which are pointless and useless.

Make no mistake, increased regulation only forces more activity underground and encourages fraud.  As always, education is better than regulation and the latest directives from Clarges Street leave me open mouthed.  If judges cannot be trusted and there is evidence that individuals are putting though dogs which are unsound then those judges must be called to account.  What is the point of having what has become a massive education and training programme for judges if it does not work.  Should it not be revised so that it does?

A meeting of all Group judges is to held shortly and this is surely on the agenda.  But what is the point of educating this minority if decisions are to be taken out of their hands anyway?  Presumably there is no problem with most breeds – why not have a conference for those breed judges in those fifteen breeds who, perhaps (I emphasise ‘perhaps’) require further explanation and enlightenment.

I have in the past criticised the Accredited Breeders’ Scheme for there is no doubt in my mind that is was conceived and launched too quickly: a good idea needs to be properly developed, evaluated and assessed before being promoted.  As a result, it took a lot longer to get on track than it need have done.  However, improvements were made  and even if a number of tweaks are still required, it has done the job of focusing the attention of breeders, selling more puppies for them and, by and large, setting sensible standards.  Why was it necessary, now that there is general acceptance of the scheme, to add to the already significant administrative and ethical load?  ABS breeders sign up to a code of ethics which emphasises the importance of welfare (which include severe restrictions on number of litters which a bitch may have and the ages within which she may be bred from) and many of us, the KC included, worked to hard to establish the Animal Welfare Act (2006) which addresses all the major animal welfare problems (should local authorities wish to apply its provisions).  Why should further and unnecessary directives be introduced?  Inventions and wheels come to mind.

Another example is the massive amount of work (and money) which is being put into the Welsh Assembly’s attempt to draft further legislation about dog breeding.  When will anyone realise that all the law required for ensuring that pets are cared for properly – and that includes breeding – is already in place.  What has not happened, does not happen and is unlikely to happen is that the law is not applied.  And making more laws will not bring the money, the staff and the expertise required to enforce it.

Let us be realistic. All the regulation being put in place is to satisfy narrowly focused lobby groups and I believe that the Kennel Club has fallen into the trap.

We can show that everything (and more) is being done that should be done and there is absolutely no point in kow-towing to veterinary surgeons, unregulated non governmental organisations or anyone else, for whatever is done they will say it is not enough and demand more.

And this does not begin to take into account the effect on the morale within the world of show dogs.

Judges are passed by the Kennel Club to award tickets and are then being told that they cannot be trusted to judge properly or fairly and that breeders are told that they cannot be trusted to look after animals properly.  There is no doubt that this may be true of a small proportion of judges and breeders but more regulations will not make a scrap of difference.  The statistics are available in the Breed Supplements to identify puppy farmers and surely the few judges involved can be re-assessed if there any concerns about their performance.

The new directives are upsetting and unnecessary and only serve to give the lobby groups a publicity opportunity and ammunition to fire back that what is being done is not enough.  They will never be satisfied and we should recognise that and stop trying.

This is not to say that we should not continue to make sensible, well thought through reforms of our structures and regulations.  There is much to be done which would not grab the headlines but would being together breeders and exhibitors and the Kennel Club rather than increasing the divisions.

For instance, one of the most serious criticisms levelled by Pedigree Dogs Exposed was about the structure of the Kennel Club itself.  The programme said  that it was unrepresentative, secretive, autocratic and elitist.  Clarges Street may argue that this is not the case but given all the time, trouble and money that has been expended on the improvement of the image of pedigree dogs one would have expected that this  misconception should also have been addressed.  But has any effort been made toward reform?  No it has not and one might wonder whether the smoke and mirrors of welfare might not have been used, in part at least, to mask this lack of attention.

Am I upset?  Yes! Am I angry?  Yes I am.  Am I right?  I do not know – you must make up your own minds.